Andy may be known for some of his more daring solo exploits, but when it comes to snorkelling he is happiest in company.
I'll admit to having snorkelled alone on occasion. However, it’s neither as safe nor as much fun as it is with a buddy. Whenever possible I’ll drag some other poor soul along with me, sometimes even two of them. It can be even more fun when there is a big group of you. More eyes in the water to spot interesting things, more folk to help out if there is a problem or encourage the less experienced. And there are more laughs to be had, usually at someone’s expense if the standard British diving humour is to be applied. However, there are considerations to be made when there is more than a few of you in the water.
Let’s kick off with the most exciting subject – Parking. Could I be any duller? Probably. But some of our best snorkel spots have limited parking, maybe none at all. I have seen sites where divers, snorkellers and walkers try and cram into a small layby and end up parking on the verges, destroying the vegetation, blocking the road and generally causing a nuisance. It’s dull but consider parking the cars elsewhere and squeezing into one. Or throwing all the gear in one car and everyone else walk. Laziness is not an excuse for… well… anything.
Also, think about Location. Snorkelling is a great choice over diving for small, shallow sites but if you’re a large group you may struggle to get enough room to swim around without kicking each other’s masks off. You could take turns being in the water and out, if the conditions allow. Which brings me to my next point.
Visibility is key to a good dive. That does not mean we always get what we want. But it is more frustrating if we arrive on-site to favourable clarity to then mess is it up with a dozen feet and fins fighting for space. So unless you trust everyone’s skills and self-discipline you may not want to pick a small site with a silty bottom and little flow. Jumping in the sea is a good bet as you’d have to have a pretty big team to mess up the entire ocean (although a 7.5 billion strong group appear to be making a bang up job of it right now). But be aware even on shipwrecks with little water movement I’ve seen groups of snorkellers ruin the viz for the rest of us for the day.
As well as the physical conditions we need to consider the Marine Life. Small creatures are unlikely to care too much, unless everyone insists on harassing the same velvet swimming crab. However, megafauna such as seals or sharks will be considerably wary of larger groups, so your chances of a close encounter are much reduced. In fact, the basking shark operators I know adhere to codes of conduct that restrict group sizes for inwater encounters.
Superficially, it may seem there is Safety in Numbers. You’ll certainly have enough folk to watch out for one another. However, you can also get lost in a crowd. There’s a reason why buddy teams of three sometimes lose someone – because you assume number two is being vigilant towards number one and number three is doing the same to number two. The problem is everyone thinks that they are number one!
So consider pairing up, or at least being clear you’ll stay as a group and who is looking out for whom. Appoint someone to remain topside to provide cover and rotate this role through the session. I once spent the day in a group
of six snorkelling down the River Dart. The route is obvious and it’s contained so people could string out into their own space, but always knew where everyone else was.
Finally, do consider the Objectives of individuals within your group. Hopefully you’re all happy just jumping in, exploring the blue (or the green, or the brown) and having some fun. But if some people want to hang around to get a specific photo while others in the group came with the intentions of striking out around the coast on a snorkel-trek, then it won’t work. There’s no problem splitting the group up as long as no one is left alone.
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Article by Andy Torbet for SCUBA magazine, issue 80 July 2018.
Images in this online version have been substituted from the original images in SCUBA magazine due to usage rights. Featured image by Ceidiog PR.
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